(Photo by Michael Fischer)
Facing its Lakes Conference rival for the third time this season, the Spencer boys team was unable to get the best of SLP-O again as they fell to the Indians, 2-1, in the Substate final at Spencer Soccer Complex Saturday afternoon. SLP-O is now 3-0-1 versus Spencer dating back to the 2011 Substate final.
SLP-O's Kade Heikens got the scoring starting halfway through the first half with the match's first goal. Both teams battled for position for the remainder of the half as the Indians went to halftime with a 1-0 lead.
Spencer tied the match at the 20-minute mark of the second half when Zach Vanderah was taken down by goalkeeper Keith Oskvig in the box, which led to a successful Cole Loehr penalty kick.
Vanderah and the Tigers had a couple other opportunities to get the lead but was unable to find the back of the net.
With 15 minutes remaining, SLP-O's leading scorer Zubeen Azari took control of the ball and dribbled his way into position for what would turn out to be the game-winning goal. Azari, a senior, is fourth in the state with 31 goals scored this season.
The win sends the Indians to Des Moines for the second consecutive year, where they will face No.2-seed Pella (17-2-1) on Thursday, May 31 at 2:30 p.m.
"It was the worst game we've played all season. I thought we were the better side on the day but we were very nervous. I think nerves might have got the best of us," Spencer coach Ben MacRae said. "We didn't take advantage of the opportunities we had, and at the end of the day, Spirit Lake scored the goals and if you don't score goals in soccer, you're not going to win the game."
For the Tigers, it ends another winning season (15-3-1) but doesn't reach the goals set by the team. Three seniors finished their careers for the Tigers on Saturday: Carter Gerdeman, Zach Overburg and Andrew Smith.
"It's a tough one to take," MacRae said. "With the team we had, we not only thought we had what it took to win the game, but to go into the state tournament and even reach the pinnacle. This has been the best group of players I've worked with here in 11 years. There hasn't been one time in the last month, even in the second half on Saturday, where we didn't believe we'd make it there."
The Tigers will return numerous multiple-year letterwinners for next year and the experience of being at the doorstep of the state tournament two years in a row.
"We had an outstanding season in terms of some of the football we played this year. This was the best team I've coached with their quickness and passing ability. It's not what we wanted, but it's still a successful season," MacRae said.
FIRST HALF: Kade Heikens, SLPO. SECOND HALF: Cole Loehr, Spencer (PK), Zubeen Azari, SLPO.